Lydie Nesvadba : reframing

Lydie Nesvabda

Category: Interviews
Publication date:
Barefoot acupunturist ©Lydie Nesvadba

The photographer draws on the many experiences that have punctuated her rich and varied career to stamp her signature on every image she produces. She signed the portraits of the 30 designers selected for BOLD Dualities, Belgium is Design’s 2024 exhibition at Milan Design Week.

Barrage des trois gorges ©LydieNesvadba
Over the course of your career, you have explored a wide variety of fields, some of them at opposite ends of the spectrum. Tell us about the start of your career.

I got my first camera when I was 12. I went on to study photography at Saint-Luc Tournai, then at La Cambre. For me, who grew up in a very academic family, this course was a revelation: five dreamy years, during which I realised that, as well as preparing me for a career, this medium would enable me to express myself as an artist. I then went to on to do many projects and travel. I photographed industrialists in the north of France, travellers and the inhabitants of the Three Gorges Valley in China just before a dam disappeared. All my life, I’ve tried to rediscover the freedom and candour that guided my work at that time.

One day, this all-consuming passion became a real vocation.

I became a portraitist for the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels. It was an opportunity to perfect my portraiture skills. I was introduced to great artists like Paul Auster and John Malkovitch: a huge calling card for the rest of my career. Everything happened very quickly, but the result had to reflect the personality of each artist. I also did fashion features for the magazine of the newspaper Le Soir and pursued my personal projects, often linked to an NGO or social issues (such as trans-identity among teenagers). I also was a member of 254Forest, a collective centred on the idea of collaborative creation. What drives me is getting fully involved in each project and being able reframe it, especially when responding to a very precise brief. This ability to capture people in a matter of minutes really helps me with very specific commissions like the series of portraits for Belgium is Design.

Baroness O. ©lydienesvadba
Tell us about your collaboration with the two curators of this selection: Ann Van Assche et Kim Vandeloo (Studio Baroness O.).

From the outset, they expressed their desire to see me create a full story. Each photo taken separately had to reflect Belgium as a whole. We worked on the concepts of geometry, contrasts, shadows and mirrors. Based on this briefing, I drew my inspiration from 3 books: one on the body language of the sculptor Erwin Wurm, a second on the Yan Family (one of the styles of Tai Chi, Ed.) and a third on a project by the photographer Christian Carrere. His work on cubes was the common thread running through these portraits. I invited the designers to interact with a series of cubes inside a white box. The idea was that they could make the space their own by using these elements as seats or supports.

Lisa Berden ©lydienesvadba
Faced with so many designers, how do you manage to create images that resemble them, while retaining your own style and instilling the Belgian identity in the curators’ brief?

All the designers played the game with a sense of mockery and quirkiness that is typical of Belgium. For my part, I spent a long time working on this project to find a concept that would meet the curators’ wishes, to create compositions that would hold up, and finally to give each designer ‘carte blanche’ to express their individuality. It’s all a question of alchemy. This preparation is essential if the magic is to really happen when the photos are taken.

Gitans © lydienesvadba
What do you think makes a good portrait?

What’s important to me is that the person I’m photographing has a good time. For a real interaction to take place, you have to create a real meeting point that allows them to feel at ease: looked at and respected at the same time. This is the only way to get the subject to open up completely and create a beautiful portrait. When time is short, the glances exchanged are everything!

Promoting Creative Minds

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